In recent months, much ado has been made about a September Wall Street Journal article called “The Slowest Generation: Younger Athletes are Racing with Less Concern about Time“. It claims that there are fewer “super competitive” runners in their 20’s and 30’s than there were when the baby boomers were in their 20’s and 30’s. The article even suggests this is the reason that the United States hasn’t won a medal in the marathon since 2004.
Last I checked the official baby boomers ranged in age from 40 to 58 years old in 2004. Those silver medals were won by 29 year old Meb Keflezighi and 31 year old Deena Kastor. Meb’s silver medal was the first medal in the marathon by an American male since Frank Shorter took silver in the 1976 Montreal games. Deena’s bronze medal was only the second medal ever for an America woman. The only other was Joan Benoit’s gold medal for the first ever women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The baby boomers have hardly been more successful at the marathon than the younger generation.
I think the article’s focus on median times overlooks an important point as well. There are a whole lot more people participating in endurance sports now than there have ever been in the past. Marathons were places where only elite runners dared toe the line. Back in the day, if you couldn’t run under 3 hours you didn’t bother showing up for the Boston marathon.
So, yes there are slower people running races now and that has made the median times slower, but having more participants is nothing but good for the sport. More runners means more races and more equipment sold. That translates into more sponsorship dollars and bigger prizes for the elites. It also translates into a healthier general population.
I don’t buy the argument that there are less “super competitive” people in the younger generation either. The American records for all running distances keep getting lower. New American records in the marathon, half-marathon, 10,000 m and 5000 m have all been set in the last 6 years. Galen Rupp won silver in the 10,000 m in London. Shalane Flanigan got Bronze in the 10,000 m in Beijing.
At the end of the day, everyone has their own goals. There are those who run just to finish and those who run to PR. There are elite runners who run for money and to break world records. We’re all runners and we all coexist. If a race is well organized, slower runners will never get in the way of elites so why does it matter if they run slow? The race organizers have figured out how long it is profitable to close the streets for the course and they set their required paces accordingly. If there’s any difference in the younger generation it’s that they’re willing to participate in a race even if they have no chance of competing for some sort of victory. I’ll take that over people who are afraid to enter a race because they think they’re too slow. It’s better than not running at all, and that’s what was happening in the 80’s.
Different strokes for different folks, I say. None of this is really a comment on any generation. There are just more options available today and different people are enjoying different forms of recreation. Sometimes that happens to be in the same event. I can agree that if you sign up for a race that has a finisher’s medal than you need to finish the race to get the medal. That’s a rule of the game, but if you sign up for the color run you should probably run slow because the whole point there is to be covered in as much colors as possible. Who care’s if it’s not timed? It’s not a race!
Were recreational bowling leagues of the 60’s an indication of that generation’s laziness? How about beer league softball? Every culture has its favored form of recreation – its way to unwind from the rigors of everyday life. For more and more people, that is running. It is fueling a running boom and it is a good thing at any pace.
What do you think?